Sunday, May 10, 2009

An Animal Farm in the City...(Not Orwells)

A few weeks back I was at a local feed store and overheard a conversation between a customer and the girl behind the counter. The man asked where all of their spring chicks were that they usually sell and the girl responded "We sold out!! Faster than we ever have!." She went on to say..."and it's not just us...the hatchery that we purchase from is OUT OF CHICKS!!" The hatchery that they purchase from is not a small hatchery...and to have run out is a big deal!

After the man left I got to talking with her and we agreed that because of the current economic climate...there are many people considering keeping chickens and other animals at their home that haven't in the past. People are wanting to be more self reliant.

My family started keeping both chickens and rabbits several years ago. On a regular basis people stop me and ask questions about how I do it. Many of these same people also end up on my doorstep to see my coop and concoct their plans.

Now...I didn't grow up on a farm. I was never in 4-H or anything like that. I had not had a lot of experience with animal husbandry...with the exception of moral support to my cat Spice when she had several litters! I've learned most everything I know from two books..."Storeys Guide to Raising Chickens" and "Storeys Guide to Raising Rabbits"...both of which I highly recommend.

So why do we raise chickens...

1. Fresh eggs not filled with antibiotics etc...

2. They provide manure for our garden.

3. They are a meat source if we need it.

4. They provide eggs which could be a valuable item to barter with in hard times.

5. They are an effort to keep the commandment from God to go into home production.

6. They are a guilt free way to get rid of food scraps. (They eat most everything!!)

Why do we raise rabbits...

1. The rabbits provide a great manure that can be put straight into the garden.

2. They are a nice pet that makes no sound. (Unless they are being bit by another animal)

3. They are a meat source that is that is super high in protein. (We don't eat much is a backup for times of famine)

A few bits of advice regarding chickens...

1. Buy an automatic waterer. I purchased a trough one from Murray McMurray...that they no longer carry....but I am really pleased with it. With an automatic waterer you don't want to have to worry all the time if your chickens have enough water. If they go too long without water...they could lose the ability to produce eggs...or die.

2. It is also a good idea to have a feeder of some sort. Mine looks like this one...only I made it myself by bending sheet metal. It was a hassle to make...but I can fill it up with food...and leave for a month or more...and the chickens would have food!

3. Call around to local feed stores to see if they have chicks. You could mail order the chicks...but they usually have a pretty large minimum 25 or you may have to split an order with friends.

4. Make a shelter for your chickens (it can be elaborate...or really primitive) that is big enough for the number of chickens you want. You many consider buying a few more chickens than you think you'll need as you may get roosters you will have to get rid of...or some may die. Introducing chickens to a flock later can be difficult or impossible.

5. Confirm your zoning laws to make sure it is legal where you are.

6. Talk to your immediate neighbors and tell them your plan. If they sound really sour on the might buy them off with some of your fresh eggs!!

7. Read the book I recommended above...and it will tell you everything else!

A few bits of advice regarding rabbits...

1. They die REALLY easy in our heat if you keep them outside. It would be wise to have an automatic watering system for them too. To get them through the summer months here takes some care...bringing them frozen water bottles...making shade available...holes to get cool in...mine even have misting system!!

2. The gestation period for rabbits is one month!! The miracle of life happens REALLY quick when the male and female get together. Unless you are going to be eating could have a real problem on your hands if you start having litters without an avenue to find them homes. I'd recommend starting with a female rabbit...and then having more when you are sure you can commit to it. Also...not all rabbits get along...and territorial issues...could end in the death of a rabbit.

3. Buy a cage for your rabbit...or make one...but have a fenced in area for the rabbit to roam. It always bothers me to see somone buy a rabbit and stick it in a tiny cage...and then never let it out to run and play.

4. There are two sides to the rabbit community. One side is like the "House Rabbit Society" that believes it is totally inhumane to ever have a rabbit outside...and treat rabbits as pets that are a part of their family. Then there is the other side that raises them for show...or meat...or for science.

5. You can purchase rabbits often at local feed stores. This seems to be cheapest that way. To buy one at the pet store...generally you have to "adopt" one...and pay for it to be spayed or neutered if it hasn't been already. This can be REALLY expensive.

6. Read the book I recommended above.

If you still have children at home....I would also get them involved in the care of your family farm! Every day my children do their "farm chores"....and I think they are better for it.

Something that is true of both rabbits and chickens is that their breeds can often determine their personality. Just like there is a difference between how a chihuahua...and a golden retreiver act...there is a difference between a Buff Orpington and a Rhode Island Red chicken...or a mini rex and a New Zealand White rabbit. I'd recommend researching a bit which varieties suit you the best. You might check out the ARBA site to learn a bit about rabbit varieties....or read the info under the chicken breeds at the Murray McMurray site. Whatever you do...don't get any animals until you have studied it out and got things ready for them.

There is plenty more I could say...but'll figure it out...with trial and error...reading the Storey Guide...and asking questions to people that have chickens and rabbits.


  1. Excellent post, Stephen -- very well thought out and executed. The perk of being able to avoid the antibiotics in the egss and the hormones in the chicken are practically worth it to have chickens.

  2. Thank you. There is so much more I could say...but the article would become a book!

    Yeah...avoiding the antibiotics and hormones is a big one. You even need to watch out when you get the some has antibiotics in it.

  3. You can show us a picture of your backyard can't you? If you don't have a digital camera it's sure worth the investment, LOL!

    I want to see the rabbits and chickens!